The Maguire Twins
’ mastery of their craft as jazz instrumentalists and composers is in sparkling evidence throughout their U.S. debut recording, Seeking Higher Ground
, which will be released by Three Tree Records on March 30. Drummer Carl Seitaro Maguire and bassist Alan Shutaro Maguire, who’ll turn 22 on March 19, take their place in the lineage of jazz brothers that includes such illustrious last names as Heath, Farmer, Montgomery, Mangione, Brecker, and Marsalis.
Produced by Memphis legend Donald Brown, the CD finds the twins living up to its title by more than holding their own in the heady company of saxophonist Gregory Tardy
, trumpeter Bill Mobley
, and pianist Aaron Goldberg
. The Maguires contribute two originals each to the program, which includes songs by their bandmates and producer. And without sacrificing cohesiveness, the songs are stylistically diverse.
Tardy’s “Theodicy” is a timely commentary on misguided religion. He plays tenor with his usual Coltrane-like intensity and, says Carl, “I try to somewhat embody Elvin Jones, who is one of my heroes.” Brown’s tricky “The Early Bird Gets the Short End of the Stick” boasts sudden time shifts and dramatic swoops that both twins laughingly said they were greatly relieved to have handled after numerous attempts.
Carl’s “Machi no Michi” (translation: “The Road of the Town”) is an elegant tribute to his Japanese origins, as reflected in the Japanese scale in the bass line and the traditional taiko drum feel in the composer’s playing. “I love the taiko drum’s huge sound and the commanding way it is played,” says Carl, who tunes his snares tightly to highlight the melody.
Goldberg’s composition, “Shed,” was the first modern jazz tune the Maguires learned to play, having heard the pianist play it as both sideman and leader. “It has been one of our favorites for the longest time,” says Carl. “Just watching Aaron count off his tunes helped me internalize time, made my time stronger,” says Alan.
Born in Tokyo in 1996 to a Japanese mother and an American father who both worked in the airline industry, identical twins Carl Seitaro Maguire and Alan Shutaro Maguire were raised in Hong Kong from age 3 and moved with their family, at 15, to musically rich Memphis. There they enrolled at the Stax Music Academy and started playing jazz. “Memphis is where most of our musical growing happened,” says Carl. “I can’t imagine us getting to where we are if we hadn’t come here.”
They learned to improvise listening to musicians at jazz clubs. “The music just took us over,” says Carl. “When I heard a bassist, I would tell Alan about it. When he heard a drummer, he would make suggestions to me based on what he saw and heard. We helped each other out.
“We were open to criticism from each other as well as ideas,” he adds. “Friends don’t want to be too harsh, but we can criticize each other as much as we want.” Saxophonist Kirk Whalum, then artist in residence at Stax, had much to do with their development as did Donald Brown, whom they met when he came to scout students as a faculty member at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. They went on to study there with him, Gregory Tardy, and bassist Jon Hamar, who composed one of the new album’s heartfelt ballads, “Clarity.”
“It all goes back to Donald,” says Alan. “He has kept us motivated. He’s always giving us something new to work on, new CDs to check out, keeps us listening to all kinds of music and encourages us to get as many lessons from as many people as we can.”
When the Maguire family made its annual visit to Japan to visit the twins’ maternal grandmother in the inland town of Kitaakita City, the boys performed in various spots, building a following among local musicians as well as fans. Requests for CDs led them to record, at 18, The Sound of Music
, a demo-style album released in 2014.
With each tour of Japan and Hong Kong, where they began performing on an annual basis in 2013, their Asian following has grown. So has the talent pool they draw from over there. The twins have performed with artists such as guitarist Yosuke Onuma, trombonist Shigeharu Mukai, pianist Yuichi Inoue, and saxophonist Yosuke Sato in Japan as well as pianist Ted Lo in Hong Kong.
“Now when we go back to Japan,” says Carl, “where jazz has been really important to a lot of people for a long time, we do so as individuals who really appreciate this music. It’s been quite an awakening for us, and it keeps getting more fun.”